Though it's a sore point for me, I'm now the wrong side of 30, and all of the gripes and complaints I dismissed from others in the past actually feel true. The grey hairs are coming, I can feel my body saying "nah, we're not doing that" at endeavours it would scoff at a decade ago, and I look at the some aspects of web culture and realise that I have little clue as to what's going on.
There are benefits to getting older, and to be honest every age group has its perks; another part of me that's changing, I think for the better, is my approach to gaming. Not so long ago I wanted all of the intensity and tempo I could get in games, whereas now I have an expanded appreciation for strategy games, and any experience that allows me to make progress at my own pace. I know, I sound like I'm already spending my evenings wearing slippers and smoking a pipe, but I've not gone that far yet.
I find myself seeking out joy in games, too, flickers of colour and extravagance as opposed to crushing realism or dark fantasy. These inclinations simply draw me closer towards Nintendo and the PC Indie scenes, in particular, and it's in playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD that I've remembered why that series - which turns 30 on 21st February - is one of the most important in the adventure genre and gaming in general.
Adventure games, including those where you can throw 'RPG' at the end of its description, are more diverse and technically accomplished than ever. That diversity is a good thing, and in the modern day we have plenty of titles (mainly on non-Nintendo hardware) that are as involving and complex as anyone could desire. A good example is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which is packed with levels-upon-levels of menus, attack options, upgrade trees and more quests than you can shake an enchanted stick at. It's also mature, with dark storytelling, sex and a lead character that's so masculine that he would take on a wild boar with nothing but his fists.
Like so many games of this era, it plays into mature and serious sensibilities; yes, it's a fantasy setting, but it's not there to uplift your spirits, but rather to challenge you, engross you and immerse you. We can add the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles X on Wii U to that, too, which is wonderful but also incredibly deep and demanding. Even games that are monumentally daft like - dare I say - Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which I loved and played to completion, are packed full of various systems and mechanics that take a lot of time to master. For so many of these games the quest isn't simply down to picking up a weapon and setting forth, relying on the kindness of strangers and your wits against the enemy - they're about detailed economies, systems and layers of design that require mastering.
What The Legend of Zelda continues to bring, more than any other franchise, is a simple tale of a young hero who starts with basic tools, and through a combination of endeavour, courage and the kindness of allies he becomes stronger and eventually ready for an ultimate showdown. It's such a simple narrative arc that pervades the entire series, for the most part, and that's part of the joy to be found.
Playing Twilight Princess HD I've found myself falling back in love with the series after a brief wobble of doubt. Though I gave The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes a 6 in our review, my personal non-professional score was lower, probably a 5 for 'average'. It felt like the engine for A Link Between Worlds bolted onto a sloppy B-list release, and though it attempted a sense of adventure its poorly implemented online structure emphasized that it's really - in my opinion - just a bunch of dungeon puzzle levels thrown together, with little context or relevance to each other. The dungeon designs weren't even as strong as in previous 2D titles, in my view, and I was personally disappointed that the spin-off had happened - when all was said and done.
And so revisiting Twilight Princess reminded me of what I love about the series, and why I've eagerly bought and played through the many releases this generation - there have been a lot, too, with the two N64 remasters on 3DS, Wind Waker HD and the aforementioned ALBW. You play as a young hero who has a simple quest to fight evil, right wrongs and save his world.
Key to all of these releases is the structure and prioritisation of the quest over all else. Though Link (or whatever you call your hero) travels far, meets a lot of characters, completes side-quests and accumulates a sizeable collection of items, the process isn't complicated. If you want to buy something, use some of the rupees you've been accumulating; you need help or an item, then do someone a favour. There's no meter for your loyalty to a particular group, and if you're buying items you're typically choosing from the same handful of options. The closest the series has come to breaking its own vow of simplicity was perhaps in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword with its potion brewing and weapon / item upgrades. I think it avoided the fate of getting too carried away, just by virtue of being generous in pick-ups that served as currency, and basic potion brewing or item acquisition have been prominent in other entries too.
Even when Zelda games do add these layers of in-game economies and systems (such as in A Link Between Worlds, where I rarely bothered 'renting' a weapon and just accumulated money to buy them), they're still mostly optional and unobtrusive, allowing you to use them as you see fit. A tendency in some adventure games is to make trading and item management more complicated than applying for a mortgage, apply character levelling that demands grinding, or to place key story progression slap bang in the path of tasks more demanding than 'work your way through a dungeon'. Again, that's absolutely fine, but The Legend of Zelda is a welcome counter-point to a number of these modern trends in game design.
More important that all of this, for me, is how Zelda titles retain a surreal charm, and often simplify key story moments by rooting them in humanity, or simple emotions like loyalty, friendship and faith. A common trope of these games is that many characters meet Link and willingly accept him as a hero, judging him on his deeds and courage alone. Relationships between characters evoke touching friendship without long-winded conversations or levelling up a buddy rating - Link and his companions help each other because it's the right thing to do and they instinctively trust in their united goal.
Some of the interactions between Link and Midna - in Twilight Princess - are lovely to watch simply because of a playful smile or a reassuring nod towards each other, and all that the gesture entails. Skyward Sword went further, in which Link embarked on an extraordinary adventure, fearlessly taking on any foe, in order to save and be reunited with his closest friend. Some of the cinematics in that Wii title reminded me of how technological advances in graphics can add a lot to storytelling in games.
This approach, this continual focus on light and dark, friendship and courage, bring me back to the simplest and most memorable narrative arcs and tales from childhood and beyond. It's easy to like the idea that a noble purpose and a good soul is enough to inspire the confidence and friendship of others, and provide enough strength to face the most daunting of challenges. They're the simplest of ideas, stories that have been told for as long as humankind has conceived of them, and those core tenets often shine through in The Legend of Zelda games.
The world is a very complicated, dangerous and at times dark place, while also full of wonder and joy. The Legend of Zelda games have the gift of portraying those realities with brightness, subtlety and clarity.
Sometimes it's nice to be a hero setting forth with little more than a sword, shield and an optimistic spirit.